Clearing: Just what have I got myself into?

Back from my holidays, into the process of UCAS clearing. It is the first time I’ve experienced it, as I’m now a programme leader, which means that I now get some input into the relative rankings of different potential students.

Chatting with one of my colleagues at lunch today, we discussed the different systems as experienced by us.  In Belgium, some courses have an entrance examination, but otherwise, on successful completion of secondary level you are qualified to enter a degree course.   This slightly fills me with worry, as there must be some fierce logistical issues with having “no limits” to your potential student numbers, especially for some courses that require access to labs.

In Ireland, the system administered by the Central Applications Office [CAO] gives universities the ability to set minimum requirements in specific subjects and the total number of students that they want to recruit for a particular course. Once that process is complete, the universities essentially have no further input (there are some minor exceptions).  Instead the magic of the Irish predilection for preference based systems comes into its own.  Just considering the direct entry into degree level, Irish students get to rank their top 10 degree programmes.  For the setting of the tariff is completely out of the hands of the universities – it is a complete supply / demand situation that governs the equivalent of the tariff attached to the courses.  Provisional offers are only made for those on non-traditional entry routes, otherwise everything comes down to the students meeting the minimum requirements, the entrance examinations [for Medicine] and then allocating the number of spaces (let’s call that X) available in a manner like this:

  • Look at all applicants who gave your course a rank.
  • See who passes the minimum requirements.
  • Offer a place to the X best students.  The lowest of them sets the “points” total.
  • Some students may decline their offer (for any number of reasons), even if students accept an offer, they  you may receive an offer from higher up your original preference list, but not lower down your  preferences…
  • Thus there can be many rounds of offers…

The important thing is that it is based on your results; not your personal statement, nor your personal reference, or any subjective input from people like me…

EJC workshop main calendar

Submit your workshop here and they will appear on this calendar. You can view the events either through the calendar below or via a version of resulting spreadsheet here which is edited to not show email addresses (so you can check to see what has already been entered). If you want access to the scripts used to create the calendar events complete the email form at the end of this post.

Unless you are planning to sync the calendar to your own device, then I would recommend using the “Agenda” view if you want to be easily able to read the different workshop / event names.

You can then sync this calendar to you own devices using the following link:


Eurovision 2016: Was Australia Robbed?

With all the serious news abound in the aftermath of the EU referendum, we thought that we would examine something less serious in the European context: the ramifications of changes to the voting system in the Eurovision Song Contest.  This piece was originally written as a piece by myself and Ben Derrick for submission to the Young Statisticians’ writing competition in Significance magazine.


Figure 1: Final Points Won in Eurovision Song Contest 2016 (Australia not to scale)

Eurovision: the drama, the excitement, the statistics. After an engaging climax to the reveal of the votes, the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest in Stockholm was won by Ukraine, with Australia finishing in second place. During the final on May 14th, Eurovision host Petra Mede stated that nothing has changed in the way you vote, it is simply the way they are presented that has changed. What Petra neglected to mention is that the way the winner is calculated has changed.

The organisers introduced a new voting system hoping that it would lead to more exciting end to the night [1]. The process of revealing the results was tense, but the results were different to what they would have been under the old system.

There were twenty-six finalists of the 2016 Eurovision Song Contest. A total of forty two countries participated in the voting process. Each country may not vote for itself. Points are allocated 1 – 8, 10 and 12. Each participating country has a televote and a jury vote; equally weighted.

The calculation underpinning the voting system has evolved over time. In the old system used from 2009-2015, these were combined prior to votes being cast; meaning that each country could give votes to ten other countries; the televotes were used to break any ties in ranks. In the new system, the results of each jury vote were presented – in the form of the points allocated to the ten countries; and then the combined votes of the televoting from all forty two countries were presented from lowest score to highest score. Overall ties in the final positions were then broken by first comparing the number of countries that voted for each of the finalists and then comparing the number of countries who awarded twelve points to the tied countries.

In the new system first used in 2016, the votes were not combined, there was no restriction on countries allocating both sets of points to the same ten countries. To illustrate the two systems, consider Albania’s votes in Table 1; they gave votes to fifteen different countries [2].

Albania’s jury and public voters were in agreement about their favourite song – the Australian entry. The jury placed France second (giving them 10 points), but the televoters did not give any points to France (because the French song was ranked 11th in the Albanian televoting process). The televoters ranked Ukraine 5th (thus allocating them six points) whereas the jury ranked the same song 12th – assigning them “null points”. If there is a disagreement between the ranks given by the jury and the phone-votes, a country may now allocate points to more than ten countries.

Table 1: Albania’s votes

New Method Old Method
To Country Jury Rank Televote Rank Jury Points Televote Points Points Given Sum of Ranks Points Given
Australia (AUS) 1 1 12 12 24 2 12
Italy (ITA) 3 2 8 10 18 5 10
Russia (RUS) 4 4 7 7 14 8 8
Bulgaria (BGR) 7 3 4 8 12 10 7
France (FRA) 2 11 10 10 13 6
Ukraine (UKR) 12 5 6 6 17 5
Spain (ESP) 5 23 6 6 19 4
Poland (POL) 14 6 5 5 20 3
United Kingdom (GBR) 6 18 5 5 20 2
Lithuania (LTU) 20 7 4 4 24 1
Sweden (SWE) 11 8 3 3 24 0
Armenia (ARM) 15 9 2 2 25 0
Israel (ISR) 8 17 3 3 25 0
Hungary (HUN) 10 10 1 1 2 27 0
Malta (MLT) 9 16 2 2 28 0
Austria (AUT) 16 13 29
Azerbaijan (AZE) 13 19 32
Germany (DEU) 18 15 33
Cyprus (CYP) 23 12 35
Latvia (LVA) 17 21 38
Belgium (BEL) 25 14 39
Croatia (HVR) 21 20 41
Czech Rep. (CZE) 22 22 44
Serbia (SRB) 19 26 45
The Netherlands (NLD) 24 24 48
Georgia (GEO) 26 25 51

Under the old system, the sum of the ranks assigned are sorted from smallest to biggest, with the order for tied ranks being decided by the song that received more viewer votes. Under this system, Sweden just misses out on receiving a point because Lithuania received more viewer votes in Albania.

Taking this into account, what would have happened if no changes had been made to the presentation of the preferences of the 41 different countries and the same calculation method used last year had been used again?

Table 2 shows that under the old method the winners would be Australia, followed by the Ukraine, with Russia in third place. The major winner under the new system (other than Ukraine of course) is Poland; moving from what would have been nineteenth place under the old system to eighth place under the new system.

Table 2: New (actual) results against Old results

Points Rank
Country New Method (2015) Old Method (2009-2015) New Method (2015) Old Method (2009-2015)
Ukraine 534 288 1 2
Australia 511 333 2 1
Russia 491 242 3 3
Bulgaria 307 187 4 4
Sweden 261 164 5 6
France 257 171 6 5
Armenia 249 146 7 7
Poland 229 49 8 19
Lithuania 200 108 9 8
Belgium 181 95 10 9
The Netherlands 153 81 11 10
Malta 153 24 12 23
Austria 151 73 13 12
Israel 135 28 14 22
Latvia 132 81 15 11
Italy 124 70 16 13
Azerbaijan 117 55 17 17
Serbia 115 61 18 15
Hungary 108 63 19 14
Georgia 104 59 20 16
Cyprus 96 55 21 18
Spain 77 39 22 20
Croatia 73 24 23 24
United Kingdom 62 30 24 21
Czech Republic 41 2 25 26
Germany 11 8 26 25

The different results between the two methods can be explained by considering the difference between the jury and telephone votes as per Table 3.

Table 3: Comparison of Jury and Televote points allocation

Televote points Jury Points Difference in points
Ukraine 323 211 112
Australia 191 320 -129
Russia 361 130 231
Bulgaria 180 127 53
Sweden 139 122 17
France 109 148 -39
Armenia 134 115 19
Poland 222 7 215
Lithuania 96 104 -8
Belgium 51 130 -79
Malta 16 137 -121
The Netherlands 39 114 -75
Austria 120 31 89
Israel 11 124 -113
Latvia 63 69 -6
Italy 34 90 -56
Azerbaijan 73 44 29
Serbia 80 35 45
Hungary 56 52 4
Georgia 24 80 -56
Cyprus 53 43 10
Spain 10 67 -57
Croatia 33 40 -7
United Kingdom 8 54 -46
Czech Republic 0 41 -41
Germany 10 1 9


There is an apparent wide disparity between the total televote points and the total jury points. Poland received 222 of their 229 points from the televote. The poor performance of the United Kingdom in the televote is in line with previous years, but this was more clearly highlighted on the night by the new method of presenting the results.

The old calculation method allows an entry that is considered average by both the televote and public vote to receive some points, but an entry that is considered very poor by one or the other would be very unlikely to obtain points. The new calculation method allows an entry that is considered to be amongst the poorest by either the jury or the televote to receive substantial points from the other. The pronounced difference between the points allocated by jury and televotes systems to Poland is highlighted in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Top 8 finishers – ordered by final finishing position.

The Australian entry was a solo female singing a moderate tempo ballad. Traditionally this is considered a safe entry and similar entries have done very well in the past. Under the old method every country except for Montenegro would have awarded Australia some points, Ukraine and Russia would have failed to receive points from 5 countries each.

Most of the juries rated Poland very low, but Poland amassed a large total due to the televote, receiving points from every country as illustrated in Figure 2. Under the old method, the televote and jury vote would have been averaged resulting in a more modest score from each country to Poland.

It is surprising to note that Poland have never won Eurovision. With a strong televote secured due to diaspora across Europe, all Poland has to do is provide a song that will also appease the jury vote, and they will certainly be a favourite for victory under this new system.

If the old calculation method were to be applied to the final, it would also be applied to the semi-finals as well. If different countries were to qualify for the final, this would inevitably impact the final voting. The change in voting system did not affect which countries qualified from the semi-finals on this occasion, although it did make some minor differences in the order. Sorry Ireland (and Westlife) fans – you still would not have qualified!

The choice between the old calculation method and the new calculation method highlights the perils of applying rank based approaches. There are many occasions where a group of judges are asked to rank items, but there is no optimum solution for the combination of their ranks. Rank based approaches do not give an indication of the extent of the difference between any two consecutive ranks. In any event, the ranking applied by each judge or individual is fundamentally subjective.

When assessing whether two distributions are equal, the standard test when the observations are paired is the Wilcoxon Rank Sum test. In this example the observations are paired by country. The results of a Wilcoxon Rank Sum test on the distribution of the ranks for the old method compared to the distribution of the ranks for the new system, shows that the two distributions for the two methods do not differ (Z=-1.500, p=0.134). Similarly, a Wilcoxon Signed Rank test comparing the distribution of the points awarded by the televote and the points awarded by the juries, shows that the distributions do not differ (Z=-0.546, p=0.585).

These results are counter-intuitive to the suggestion that the jury and televote opinions show a wide disparity. Therefore the standard test for comparing equality of distributions is not without scrutiny. The mean (and median) rank from the jury is fixed by design to be equal to the mean (and median) rank of the televote. In addition the mean (and median) number of points awarded by both the jury and the televote is also fixed by design. This highlights that the Wilcoxon Rank Sum test is less powerful when the measure of central location are equal for both groups. In fact, if the televote were to rank the countries in the complete opposite order to the jury vote, the test statistic would result in a p-value of 1.000.

This peculiarity could be detected by also calculating the correlation between the two ranks – complete opposite ranks would have a correlation coefficient of -1.

It is difficult to say whether one calculation method is fairer than the other calculation method. The apparent reason behind the reintroduction of the jury vote for use within the old system was to try and nullify the effect of the diaspora and geographical block televote. However, the new method may not be as effective in achieving this goal.

The new method is more transparent, it is clear to see whether the votes are coming from the jury or the televote. In addition, a country is guaranteed to be rewarded if it is liked by either. Certainly the new format for the voting resulted in a dramatic finale, therefore the producers are likely to favour this method for future contests.

Even with clear instructions as to how to use the ranking system, problems such as those faced by Denmark’s “Juror B” may arise, where she ranked the countries in reverse order in error [3].

This could have been detected by noting the negative correlation between the ranks given by Juror B and those given by the other four Danish jurors. The juror repeated the same procedural error in both the semi-final voting stage and during the final. A simple check using correlations could have detected the problem after the semi-final and allowed a reminder to be given about the correct procedures, without disclosing ranks given by other jury members.

In the final, if Danish Juror B had specified her ranks correctly then Australia should have received 12 rather than 10 points from the Danish jury, whereas Ukraine would have received 0 points from the Danish jury (rather than 12 points). This would have made the final points tally even closer. Under the old method, Australia’s margin of victory would have increased.

The number 13 may also have proved to be unlucky for Australia, this position in the running order meant they performed in the first half of the contest. Ukraine and Russia both received positions in the second half of the running order. All but 4 winners in the 21st century have appeared in the second half of the contest. In fact, Australia beat Ukraine in their semi-final, in which they both performed in the second half.

Historically, analyses of the Eurovision song contest voting focus on largely geographical voting blocs. Ukraine is part of the established former Soviet bloc. As relative newcomers to the contest and located outside Europe, Australia are not yet part of an established bloc vote. Eastern Europe and Western Europe appear to be divided over which entry was their favourite, see Figure 3.


Figure 3: Points differential between the points awarded to Ukraine over Australia

Countries in the former Soviet bloc and in closest proximity to Ukraine generally gave more points to the entry from Ukraine than that of Australia. The Scandinavian bloc however was much more favourable to Australia than Ukraine. If Juror B had voted correctly Denmark would have been more obviously part of this bloc.

The Ukrainian entry was considered by some commentators to have a political tone with respect to the Russian and Ukrainian dispute over Crimea, possibly explaining why Russia awarded Ukraine a lower proportion of its total points than usual. However, with its clever staging similar to the 2015 winner, Russia was the pre-contest favourite to win. Political reasons may have encouraged many other countries to vote for Ukraine. This in turn may have further contributed to victory being snatched from Australia.

It appears that everything was conspiring against Australia, but is it fair to conclude that Australia was robbed? Aspects transpiring against Australia can be explained as factors that are to be expected in a subjective competition. Australia can claim to be unfortunate being randomly drawn in the first half of the running order. The new calculation method had been made available well in advance of the contest. Ultimately, the countries that rated Ukraine more favourably than Australia may be down to cultural tastes.








A lucky immigrant? Immediate post Brexit thoughts

I’m a lucky immigrant. I’m skilled and my skills are transferable from one country to another.  However, the atmosphere in England towards immigrants has noticeably (for me) changed during the very long EU referendum campaign.  The focus on controlling immigration has made me feel uncomfortable in my immigrant status for the first time since I moved to the UK in 2009.  As an Irish citizen I had a vote in this referendum and I used it, to no avail.  I also, according to the majority of Leave campaigners, will not have any changes made to my right to live and work in the UK.

Furthermore, during the campaign Michael Gove actively promoted rejecting expert opinion.  This anti-intellectualism is dangerous.  Leave campaigners are now saying that we shouldn’t trigger Article 50 immediately and that “during the campaign we all said things…”.  The consequences were known and they were highlighted by many, yet voters in England and Wales voted in sufficient numbers to override the decisions made by the majorities of the electorate in Scotland and Northern Ireland.   I’m tempted to invoke a claim that all those areas who voted against the EU should be among the first to lose EU income so that they can see just how much more pro-active the EU is on allocating resources to regions.  For too long, the UK government and press has used the EU as a lazy scapegoat rather than taking responsibility for their actions. However, if this rule were to be invoked, then people and worthwhile activities would be affected by unforeseen consequences, much like David Cameron not expecting to have a majority government and thus not being able to blame the lack of a referendum on a junior coalition partner.  The reality of what many people are only waking up to is a bigger shock to the UK market than the 2008 financial crisis or the 1992 ERM crisis and it is no outside entities fault.

Sitting MPs knowingly repeating lies despite the errors being pointed out should be treated as bring the house into disrepute.  For the first time since moving to the UK, I started looking for jobs outside the UK system when the results became obvious overnight.  Today, and especially last night, has not been a good one for me.

More or Less

Today my first interview on BBC Radio 4 aired – as part of the Friday afternoon programme “More or Less”: available here

I became involved in this when a producer contacted the Royal Statistical Society who fielded it out to the Statistical Ambassadors looking for a volunteer.

What started out as a very simple listener question:”What’s my chance of being called to do jury service” from a Scottish resident threw up many different quirks of the Scottish system.  In order to simplify the problem, I first decided to look at the probability of receiving a citation (the equivalent of a summons); because this part of this could be treated as an essentially random process.

The Scottish Courts service helpfully provided data on the number of citations issued and also the number of jury trials in Scotland, leading to the first quirk of the Scottish system: they have 15 rather than 12 member juries.  From this we could work out the probability of being cited from the Scottish electoral register [which contains some people who are ineligible for service].

I used a poisson distribution to model the probability of receiving 0 (zero) citations in a year.  For ease, I assumed that this rate was approximately constant over the range of years under investigation.  This may, in reality, be a bit of a stretch for the 53 years of typical eligibility, the listener in question had only 9 more years before he could opt out for age reasons. I also assumed that the chances of receiving a citation is independent year-on-year (although eligibility is definitely not independent).  I also assumed that the number of trials in a catchment area was approximately proportional to the number of people on the electoral register – again, this simplification had to be made as that was all of the available data – anything deeper would have been beyond the scope of a general audience radio programme.

Last year, only 13% of those who were cited actually served on a jury in Scotland..

Because you are exempted from jury service for a period after being balloted for service (and for even longer if you actually serve on a jury), looking at the number of times a person can serve on a jury is far more complex.

As for the experience of recording the programme.  All of my interactions were with a producer (who was lovely) – many emails, several phone calls and then a trip for me into BBC Bristol to record my thoughts on a decent ISDN line.  The recording took about 25 minutes in total, partially because some new questions popped up during the recording, meaning that I ran some calculations on the spot!  These were condensed into about a minute on the radio. Because of the format of the show, and the fact that I was prerecorded, it wasn’t nearly as stressful as I’m sure other media experiences can be [I wasn’t there to argue or provide balance against another person].

Listening back to myself was a strange experience – I definitely moderated my voice to ensure that my accent is less pronounced and also I spoke much more deliberately than usual.  Perhaps this was because I was conscious that More or Less goes out to quite an international audience (it is also broadcast on the World Service).

Final Count of Seats: who won what?

So Longford-Westmeath results are in, so we can now look at the geographic breakdown of the final votes and seats in the Irish General Election:

Beginning with the most important: who won seats where?

In the next two plots, the size of the pie-chart are proportional to the number of seats being contested (so Dún Laoighaire was adjusted to only have 3 out of 4 seats contested as the Ceann Comhairle is returned automatically).  Renua won no seats (so the colour orange is slightly redundant in these legends!)


Dublin: Labour won no seats south of the Liffey; but the Greens won two.  Social Democrats won one seat in Dublin; Fine Gael won at least one seat in every Dublin constituency (and two in Dún Laoighaire and Dublin Bay South).  Fianna Fáil improved their lot over 2011 when they won a single seat in Dublin – now they have 6 seats in Dublin.  PBP-AAA won 5 seats in total in Dublin while Sinn Féin won 7. Independents also won 7 seats in Dublin.


Interesting constituencies include Tipperary: 3 out of 5 seats were won by Independent candidates and Roscommon-Galway where 2 out of 3 seats were won by Independents.

Fine Gael managed to return at least one TD in all of the other constituencies (barring the two with two with a majority of independent seats), with two returned in Wexford, Kilkenny-Carlow, Limerick County, Clare, Galway-West, Mayo, Wicklow, Meath-East and Louth.

Fianna Fáil returned at least one TD in all non-Dublin constituencies, with two in Cork South-Central, Cork North-West, Kilkenny-Carlow, Kildare South, Kildare North, Cavan-Monaghan, Sligo-Leitrim and Mayo.

Sinn Féin won two seats in Louth and one in: Donegal, Sligo-Leitrim, Cavan-Monaghan, Meath West, Offaly, Laois, Wicklow, Kilkenny-Carlow, Limerick City, Kerry, Cork North-Central, Cork South Central, Cork East and Waterford.



All the counts in one place

All 40 constituencies for Ireland’s general election in the one place.  To help you understand these graphs if you are not familiar with the Irish transfer system, I would advise you to read this post first.  Colours indicate what political party (or grouping) a candidate is from with

  • Blue being Fine Gael
  • Light green being Fianna Fáil
  • Dark green being Sinn Féin
  • Red being Labour
  • Bright green being Green Party
  • Purple being Social Democrats
  • Orange being Renua
  • Light red / (technically a pinkish brown, but seems more like a brownish pink to me!) is People Before Profit / Anti-Austerity Alliance / Socialist Party / Workers Party
  • Grey is Independent (Independent Alliance or otherwise) and others.

The order of the names in the legend corresponds to the number of 1st preferences received [highest 1st preference is at the bottom as they are least likely to be eliminated at a later stage]; a star beside the name indicates that they have been elected

Otherwise, let’s go; here are all 40 transfer patterns visualised… analysis to come later. Note that the result for Longford-Westmeath is still pending!

Transfer Politics

One of the unusual features of the Irish electoral system is that of transferable voting.  Since the constituencies (other than in by-elections or in Presidential elections) have more than one seat to be filled, the bigger parties often run more than one candidate.

They often try to spread the candidates out geographically throughout the constituency, in order to try to capture geographic transfers as well as party transfers.

Using an example,  from a 3-seat constituencies: Cork North West, I will explain how the transfer system works.  The calculation for the quota (the point at which a candidate is elected) is as follows:


where NVotes is the number of valid votes, and NSeats is the number of seats being contested. Thus in the case of a three seat constituency, a candidate has to accumulate one vote more than 25% of the number of valid votes to be automatically elected [note that this doesn’t apply at the final count, as some votes are not transferred and so the effective number of votes is reduced].


Count 1: All number 1 preferences are counted for each candidate.

At the end of Count 1, in the case of Cork North West, no candidate was elected, so they decided to eliminate candidates. In this case the three candidates (O’Donnell, Griffin and O’Sullivan) with the fewest 1st preferences were eliminated together.

Why aren’t they eliminated one at a time? Well, consider the case of the four lowest polling candidates:

  1. Green Party: C. Manning 1354
  2. Independent: J. O’Sullivan 478
  3. Independent: S. Griffin grey 439
  4. Communist Party: M. O’Donnell  185

The sum of 2-4 on this list is 1102.  So therefore, if they were to be eliminated one at a time, and all the transfers went to the next highest in the queue – so all O’Donnell’s 185 1st preference votes were transferred (by expressing number 2 preference) to Griffin (to result in a value of 624 votes for Griffin) and then O’Sullivan is eliminated (still having only 478 votes, having received no direct transfers from Griffin) and all O’Sullivan’s votes also go to Griffin, Griffin would still only have 1102 votes, which is less than Manning’s 1354.

Therefore, after Count 1, all of the ballot papers that had 1st preferences for O’Sullivan, Griffin or O’Donnell are then examined and the 2nd preferences are looked at. The votes are then literally transferred into the candidates’ that received the number 2 rank pile of ballot papers.

At the end of Count 2, still no one has reached the quota, so Manning (the remaining candidate with the fewest votes) is eliminated.  Any of Manning’s votes that attempt to make their next preference for one of the already eliminated candidates have their next available preference considered.  Note that, since a Supreme Court judgement, if a voter forgets to include a preference – so gives ranks 1-3, forgets 4, restarts at 5, then all preferences after 3 are deemed invalid and the vote becomes non-transferable.

This process continues until Count 8, when a candidate is elected (if more than one is elected on the same count, the one with the greater surplus is considered first; if the excess is so small as to not to make a difference to potential order of elimination/election, they may choose to go straight to the next elimination).  Counters look at the last pile of votes added into Creed’s pile of votes – the transfers from Collins, another candidate from the same political party.  They look at all the next preferences in this pile and then split the number of excess votes in proportion to the next available preference (after Creed).  In this case, the majority of these went to O’Shea.   The votes they choose to distributed the excess from are randomly sampled [so as they do not consider lower order preferences, this could, potentially effect who are elected] – but it did not matter in this case, as Count 9 was the last count.

In this count, A. Moynihan exceeded the quota and was deemed elected.

M. Moynihan was then elected without them checking A. Moynihan’s excess as M. Moynihan was sufficiently far in excess of the only other remaining candidate (O’Shea) that it would not have made a difference, even in the unlikely event that all of A. Moynihan’s votes went to O’Shea  (although of the same party, the two Moynihans are not related).  Thus M. Moynihan was elected without making the quota, because, by Count 9 there were 3,650 untransferred votes, making it impossible for the final person elected to exceed the quota.

On Voting: different systems

It’s Irish election time; causing me to think about the differences between the UK and Irish election systems for general elections.
UK’s First Past the Post system means that most voters are really voting for a party rather than a candidate. There are safe seats where candidates without any attachment to the constituency can be parachuted in and win. For all the attachment to constituency based politics, I’ve heard little from candidates despite living in a relatively unsafe seat.

Ireland’s Proportional Representation via Single Transferable Vote in multi -seat (3, 4 or 5 seats) constituencies means that there are no fundamentally safe seats. In constituencies that a party is popular in often more than one candidate from the same party is on the ballot paper. This lack of safe seats leads to a lot more clientism and localism in Irish TDs (MPs).

Ideally those elected should contribute to the good of the entire country, not just their constituency, but the Irish system doesn’t necessarily encourage that type of behaviour among voters.

 2011 1st Preferences % of 1st Preferences Number of Seats % of Seats
Fine Gael  801,628  36.1  76  45.8
Fianna Fáil  387,358  17.4  20  12.0
Sinn Féin  220,661 9.9 14 8.4
Labour  431,796 19.4 37 22.3
Others  378,916 17.1 19 11.4

Transferring of votes is very important when considering electoral success in Ireland.  Fine Gael (and to a lesser extent Labour) did well – gaining a greater percentage of the seats in the Dáil than would be expected on a purely proportional split of votes.  Indeed, they encouraged transfers of votes between the two parties (once their own list of candidates was exhausted).

Quotas in Irish General elections are as follows:

  • 3 seat constituencies:  (25% (1/4) of the valid votes)+1 vote
  • 4 seat constituencies: (20% (1/5th) of the valid votes)+1 vote
  • 5 seat constituencies: (1/6th of the valid votes)+1 vote

The final seat often does not make the quota due to people not having a full ranking of candidates (so the effective quota reduces).  This makes the last seat the seat most dependent on the success of a candidate at attracting votes from others.  This has been a traditional problem for Sinn Féin – them failing to attract transfers in the same numbers as other parties (this happened in the last Dublin South-West by-election)

Fianna Fáil did particularly poorly in Dublin in the 2011 election – returning just a single seat:


Number of Seats per party in each Dublin Constituency

Comparing that to the relative share of 1st preference votes; we can easily see what a disaster Dublin was in 2011 for Fianna Fail.


1st preference vote share: pie charts are proportional in size to the number of valid votes

In the rest of Ireland, this trend was echoed, but not to the same extent:


Number of seats returned in each non-Dublin constituency

Compared to vote share of 1st preferences:


1st preference share by constituency

It will be interesting to see how this changes with the results over the weekend.  The fragmentation of votes has been predicted by polls and media, but whether this will continue down to the vital second, third and fourth preferences will only reveal itself over the weekend.

Video based learning materials

From recent discussions with students it has become obvious that where previously the first port of call for students trying to understand a method would have been their notes, followed by recommended textbooks, students are turning away from the written word [in statistics / mathematics at least].

Which leads me to think about what type of material is best conveyed through the medium of video rather than as static text.

For a number of years, I have been recording derivations done (generally aimed at final year mathematics undergraduate students).  I try to keep these to under 10 minutes in length, but when I review average watch duration, it is under 3 minutes.  Having thought about this carefully, I can’t see a way to shorten these videos without loosing important details.

These videos, considering how niche the target audience is, have proven to be surprisingly popular.  Looking at when during the year the peak viewing figures are, they nicely correspond to when most students would be first introduced to the material and then again when they would be revising for examinations.  An example of one such video is below:

I’ve also begun to start recording screen demonstrations of how to do different statistical analyses in Minitab and SPSS.  This includes not only the basic “how to” but also how to then appropriately edit the resulting output for professional looking reports.  These are pitched at second year mathematics students and also at students on MSc programmes in Biology style subjects doing Research Methods courses.  For clarity, I keep these on a seperate youtube channel; an example which is feedback for a piece of 2nd year coursework is below:


But this leads to a problem: how do I do the same for R?  Beyond the very basics of the initial set up, R is very much a command line, and hence text based language.  Despite much trial and error, I’m still struggling to make good videos without spending a huge amount of time on each.  The problem is that I’m essentially just commenting on code.  It is rather unnatural for me to do this of any other way than by text as it would be much faster to read the text based comments than to listen to the same comments being made on a video.

I prefer to create my R scripts during my videos.  I don’t like to “pre-script” the videos as my voice becomes flat rather than conveying enthusiasm.  My current major issue with this is that the audio track of the videos are full of sounds of me hitting the keyboard.  So I will give it one final attempt with a different keyboard, but otherwise I am stumped at how to deliver effective instructional videos for R.  The other alternative is to use pre-written R scripts, but I’ve found this to be a less dynamic solution.